More mindful learning

Visting my friends here in Cable Bay I picked up a book I left behind here 18 months ago, Ellen Langer’s Mindful Learning. I’m enjoying it just as much the second time as the first. Among the nuggets I enjoyed this time was her experiment in rewriting a textbook chapter in a more conditional tone. Essentially she rewrote absolute statements as general ones… for instance, just adding phrases like “in most cases” or adding a “may” here and there. Then she tested both versions on matched groups of students.

The two groups had similar recall of content, but the group with the conditional text did much better in a test of the creative application of the material.

Langer argues compellingly againt rigid teaching systems in favour of ones that introduce elements of uncertainty so that the student truly participates in the learning process, generating their own insights. As I commented back in 2004, there are important implications here for marketing as a co-creative process.

Here’s another nice insight.

When people overlearn a task so that they can perform it by rote, the individual steps that make up the skill come together into larger and larger units. As a consequence, the smaller components of the activity are essentially lost, yet it is by adjusting and varying these pieces that we can improve our performance.

This makes sense to me, and its one reason why humans are quite good at creating ruts for themselves. People like David Bohm point out that a lot of our thinking is not fresh and original, but simply the recitation of familiar arguments which we could usefully re-examine in more detail. It’s why I sometimes want to challenge the celebration of big ideas; soemtimes the most effective change arises from apparently small shifts.

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